Richard Dawkins and Healing

I just left a comment on todays reading from the One Year Bible Blog which asks the question about whether God heals today or not.

I saw Richard Dawkins last night on TV, the first in a 2-part series called The Root of all Evil. He was debunking religion because no Catholic pilgrims were healed at Lourdes. I wish he would have gone to Africa to see AIDS victims who have been supernaturally healed of their disease or dead people that have been brought back to life after a few days in a coffin. That would ruin his argument and his TV program.

Does God still heal? Yes, but sometimes He choses not to. And when he does choose to show His power in a miraculous way, it’s an incredible eye-opener for people like Dawkins who have never seen the power of God firsthand. Miracles and healings in the early church were a big contributing factor to the growth of the church, says Roland Allen, and they also factor into the fast growth of the church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Big question for the rational, sterile, highly educated church in the West is this: How long can an apologetics without power survive? Can it really hope to argue skeptics into the Kingdom of God with rational debate or will we need to learn afresh about a Christianity with power from those experienced in it from the non-Western world?

Interesting seeing Ted Haggard on the show. I think it was Ted who was telling us in Pasadena (the infamous 1996 National Symposium of the Post-Denominational Church – yes – I was there – as well as other controversial gatherings) about his trip to Colombia. So many people were getting raised from the dead that ministers were called out to pray over bodies all the time. Ted said he went out with these guys to pray over someone who had been dead for a few days and was smelling really bad – and he wasnt really keen on seeing what would happen if this guy came back to life. [No, God, leave him alone!!!] Funny story. But I wish Ted would have told it to Richard Dawkins.

I also wish Ted had a partner with him when he was interviewed by Dawkins. There’s a good reason Jesus sent us out two by two and in most situations like that, two heads are better than one. But still, Ted did pretty well.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

32 Comments

  • Good post, this one.
    I don’t think apologetics without any power can survive that long. If it survives, it does so with the help of people who have been christians all of their lives, and who have been taught up to look at things in some predestined way (is this controversial?). I don’t think apologetics without power brings in that many new people to the kingdom. But hey, any way that brings even one new…
    I wrote a smiliar post on my blog today. Well… sort of similar. It is about Simulacra and how the church creates symbols of God that it holds for truth, and how the person of God our Father is lesser known to people than the symbols for him are. Interesting.

  • While I share your sentiment, the fact is that until the Holy Spirit opens their eyes, they will never see. All of creation speaks of His wonder but many never notice. As soon as our eyes are open to God, we then see Him in everything. I commented on this in my post on “God Around Us”.
    For a good read on God performing signs and wonders or not, try “The Kingdom and the Power” by Greig and Springer.

  • Healing: I know you only mentioned this in passing but I just can’t resist jumping in here. I totally realise this is a complex area and that we all have a painful story to tell, and people can be highly sensitive when these issues are raised. But whenever I hear someone say “Does God still heal? Yes, but sometimes He choses not to.” what always springs to my mind is ‘did God choose not to heal those in Matt 13? Or was it their choice that determined that. I fully realise (& don’t like) that the conclusion (unbelief) is highly controversial, but that doesn’t allow us to dismiss it. Infact I think that’s really the issue your post addresses – are we willing to face up to where our western rationalism & cynicism has got us, devoid of a simple faith in Gods supernatural power?

  • Glad you caught the show Andrew – I saw it advertised and read the interview with Dawkins in the RT, but missed the show. Anytime I’ve seen or heard him before he’s been incredibly polemic and bitter and arrogant. When I was at college one of my fellow students wrote an essay which interacts with some of Dawkins writings, it can be read at http://www.apologetics.fsnet.co.uk/barnes.doc
    On the healing issue I’ve just finished reading “Healing and Suffering” by Keith Warrington. I didn’t like his style of writing, but here’s a NT Scholar taking a good look at this important subject in a very practical, pastoral and down to earth matter.

  • Great post. Since my early days as a Christian, as someone who started in a pentecostle church, I’ve been a serious proponent of the supernatural or “power” side of the gospel. I believe the church must re-capture this truth of God if the Kingdom of God is to grow. I don’t think apologetics is the answer. That may have worked before, but people want to know God is real and has real power, not just someone presented in a book.
    I’ve been humbled at the occasional times that God would let me pray for someone and they were healed or would have a word for someone so that I could minister to them. But as important as I believe these things are, the area that’s most critical -that I know I have to let God work on in me and I believe much of the Western church is Love.
    I believe if we get that in order, first our love for God then our love for people, I believe the miraculous will truly flow out of that. I keep remembering the verse – love never fails.
    Thanks for the great post,
    John

  • My first reaction to your post today was to be reminded of the words attributed to Jesus in Luke 16.31; And he said to him, If they will not give attention to Moses and the prophets, they will not be moved even if someone comes back from the dead.
    Richard Hawkins has so obviously been damaged by the church he is now, and has been for some time, on a mission to diss it at every given opportunity. Argument won’t change that, dead men walking won’t change it, teeth being filled with gold won’t touch it, just quiet, persistent, uncondemning love – but that’s not spectacular enough is it?
    Something fundamental to ’emerging’ or ‘post-modern’ church is surely the need to admit that the christian faith is riddled with innumerable inconsistencies and for Hawkins to suggest that God doesn’t exist because no-one is healed at Lourdes is just as stupid as christians trying to prove God exists because a four day old corpse is (allegedly) resuscitated in Columbia.

  • yes – Megashift BEGINS with the miracles and then gives explanation.
    many of the Jesus events also seem to be the experience or the miraculous and then the explanation.

  • hadge
    what about gold dust fluttering on his shoulder and forming the shape of “John 3:16”?
    nahhh . . just joking . . hey – its been a long time since you were here. welcome back
    if i was ted haggard, and i had more time to think about my approach,
    i would have challenged his dualistic division between science and religion and also
    i probably would have asked Richard to recommend the best possible book that would show me exactly what he was talking about. i could have then ordered it on amazon and assured him i would read it with a mind open to learn all i can about what he knows.

  • I don’t typically jump into the fray – but I want to throw an idea out there. For the gentleman who holds the idea that maybe we don’t have the “faith” to be healed because Jesus never left anyone unhealed, I think our definition is wrong and our language limited.
    You have the faith if you believe in an all powerful God. But doesn’t faith also include an element of what God desires to do? He may be able and unwilling regardless of the belief of the individual in His ability. The truth is that sometimes He chooses death and sickness. Not always, but He might be up to something more than just good health and riches.
    Feel free to respond to all who choose.
    hastingscj@gmail.com
    Christopher Hastings

  • there is a guy named jack deere that has written some books on this topic. he was a pastor and a prof at DTS (dallas theological seminary). part of his teaching was that the Holy Spirit has ceased to use visible works( some of you may be familiar with this). but he got turned around and thrown out of his church and quit teaching. i think the first book is called “suprised by the power of the spirit”. anyway they are great reads
    chad

  • thanks for this post andrew. you are correct in that “healing” is sometimes a sticky subject but does not need to be swept under the carpet just because you have no experience in seeing God heal in the miraculous. being with David Hogan in southern mexico and having him at our church was a real eye opener to see God at work thru healing.

  • Please please please give me a link to some information about the resurrections in Colombia. I’ve tried a Google search, but to no avail.

  • Andrew Jones, Richard Dawkins, and Healing

    The TallSkinnyKiwi, Andrew Jones, is a fearless provocateur. In one of his latest posts he pounces on what he describes as the rational, sterile, highly educated church in the West by asking these two poignant questions: How long …

  • Re: Christopher Hastings
    Is it really the case that ‘Jesus never left anyone unhealed’? At the Sheep Gate Pool (Bethesda) in John 5 it seems as though Jesus walked in and picked out one person among the many disabled lying there.

  • Andrew Black,
    I don’t know categorically that Jesus healed everyone he ever met who was ill, or sick or dying – but I won’t rule it out. I wasn’t meaning to come down on one side of the argument or the other – saying He did leave people unhealed would only play into my argument more.
    Christopher

  • Re Christopher
    When does God choose death and sickness? Andrew I think we have to know the will of God, and then believe it. Jesus took our sin and our sickness on the cross. When do we question ‘can I have salvation…just cos that bloke over there received it..maybe I can’t’. Yet we say ‘I know God CAN heal…but maybe it’s not going to happen for me’. But Jesus conquered both.
    Having beaten sickness God tells us in James that the sick ‘should call the elders…pray..confess and you will be healed’.
    I’ve not met many Christians in the west who expect healing to happen without question (in God’s timing). Fortunately I’ve met people from Africa, Asia etc. They do believe in literal, itwillhappen every time healing. As a result they see it happen.
    I believe unswervingly. I think we diminish what the Spirit can do when we doubt it.

  • Katie,
    Then why not start walking in hospitals? To say nothing of the fact that some ailments have psychological/spiritual reprecussions reasons – unless all illness is a spiritual consequence. In that case – is my faith dim and weak if I get the common cold – should I call for the elders?
    Christopher

  • I agree that healing, both in Bible times and now, has played a significant part in church growth. Never-the-less, apologetics and plain gospel preaching continue to work powerfully, i.e. the continued recent influence of C.S.Lewis, The Alpha course, Billy Graham and so on.
    There’s no need to box God in. Today’s society is made up of modernist/rationalists, post-moderns, individualists, Muslims, skeptics, chavs… God gives us more than one way to bring the gospel to people.

  • Andrew,
    Thanks for this post. I did some cross-cultural work in India and was amazed at what I saw and experienced. Sadly though, I was powerless to transport that kind of raw faith and divine power back into my American context. Which left me wondering, “What’s the difference between us and them?”

  • Seems like it’s a revealing and historically-proven phenomenon that God feels no great pressure to rush a miracle toward someone like Dawkins.

  • You are right that apologetics without power is useless. But I think that God uses the rational statements of apologetics to draw someone to the “seemingly” irrational step of faith. Take CS Lewis for example.
    I think of it as a perfect blending of faith and reason. I can only know God by faith, but my faith doesn’t contradict reason. Before taking a step of faith, some people need to be brought to a point where they will actually consider taking a step of faith. Apologetics plays a role in that, but I would have to agree that if apologetics is the only tool in our arsenal then we have failed, unless you think of apologetics like Francis Schaeffer did. He believed that the church was the final apologetic and people will know we are His disciples because of our love for each other. That kind of apologetic has a lot of power.

  • Brothers and Sisters

    TallSkinnyKiwi posted this:
    Big question for the rational, sterile, highly educated church in the West is this: How long can an apologetics without power survive? Can it really hope to argue skeptics into the Kingdom of God with rational debate or w…

  • How encouraging! Of Course!!
    How short sighted of me to forget. The gospel comes with signs and wonders…. and sometimes not. I just got through watching a DVD borrowed from the library; Peter Jennings’ The Search for Paul…. no mention of the miracles, other than an incredulous nod to his conversion testimony. No real belief is relayed in the telling. Just a love of skepticism.
    Thank God Jennings isn’t the first one I heard the gospel from. There is no power in “reporting” -only in testifying.

  • Does God still heal today? I think that was the question Richard Dawkins originally asked. I must say yes and no. Yes, because I have personally seen a man healed of cancer. I saw the photos of the cancer. I also know what the doctors kept saying after he was prayed over.
    No, because, sometimes, he chooses not to. I saw this, too. My wife passed away almost a year ago after a 2-year battle with cancer.
    I can’t explain why one was healed and the other wasn’t. Then again, who knows the mind of God? Who gives Him counsel?
    Did God get the glory? In both situations a resounding YES!!!
    Maybe the question should really be, “Is God getting the glory He deserves?”

  • Powerful stuff. Maybe not what we’re looking for in the first world, but powerful stuff for those who are looking.
    Jack Deere’s books are great, and not just from a miracles perspective. Definitely worth a read.

  • Mike
    sorry to hear about your wife. Glad to hear you have grappled with it and walked away with wisdom.
    God can heal but doesnt have to heal. But there is no denying the impact of miracles in the growth of the early church or the current global church.

  • Andrew — Stale argumentation is a useless endeavor, but a rational appeal by someone willing to be a vessel in God’s service to someone such as Richard Dawkins is exactly what Paul was referring to when he talked of being all things to all men to perhaps win some to saving faith.
    Argument alone does not suffice, but neither does experiential testimony alone. The Spirit must be at work. Willing hands are needed in both instances.
    For the rational, bring a rational defense. For others use a different approach. There’s room in the body of Christ for diverse approaches of giving an “apologia” (2 Peter 3:15) for our hope.
    Without the rational, you wouldn”t dare drive on highways or enter a physical structure. Bear in mind, all truth is God’s truth.

  • Thanks to Andrew and all the others for some heartfelt wrestling.
    I do, though, find it interesting that none of the previous 29 comments refer to spiritual warfare as the best theological grid for this discussion (unless I missed it – apologies)?
    If the majority worldview through human history – that of a cosmic struggle between good and evil powers – is accepted, then both suffering and healing are expected. Suffering because Satan is at war with God’s intentions for humanity and creation; healing because Jesus shows the victory of God breaking out on planet earth.
    Gregory Boyd deals masterfully with this topic in his epic (but readable) tomes God At War and the follow up Satan And The Problem Of Evil. He goes into a whole lot more depth.
    Incidentally, he’s very funny to listen to and blessed with the ability not to take himself or his subject too seriously. Seriously!
    I am not meaning to sound glib, but I really feel so assured that this is our best answer to the suffering/healing question.
    Neither am I saying this line of thought somehow erases all our pain. When was war ever pain-free?
    I lost a good friend to cancer myself a couple of years ago; she was someone with more faith than almost anyone I know, who would have endorsed Greg’s thinking here. But we lost her. So I do know a bit of the shock/sadness/anger/confusion this subject raises.
    However, I believe the battle she and we were engaged in at that time was simply too fierce. Either we didn’t have the tools available, or the wisdom to use them to maximum effect, or the persistence necessary in order to prevail, or the love to keep our eyes fixed on Christus Victor instead of the presenting issue. I don’t know which, I suspect a combination of all of these.
    What I do know is that while suffering of all kinds grieves me probably more now than it has ever done, the theological/rational/Western ‘problem of evil’ never really troubles me.
    You don’t have to be black, Pentecostal, Latin American, charismatic, loopy or any particular stream to hold this view. Just biblically-based, historically-rooted and a lover of people.
    Okay, I’ve gone on waaaay to long and and sense I am dangerously close to stepping onto my soapbox. 😉
    Interested to hear others responses to my (apparently) minority view?

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